University of Arizona to finish primary mirror for Discovery Channel Telescope

Aug. 4, 2006
August 4, 2006, Tucson, AZ--Lowell Observatory and the University of Arizona's College of Optical Sciences (OSC) have finalized a $3 million, three-year contract to complete the Discovery Channel Telescope primary mirror. The 4.3 m diameter (14 foot), approximately 6,700 pound mirror is the heart of Lowell Observatory's new Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT). The telescope is under construction at Happy Jack, AZ, 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff.

August 4, 2006, Tucson, AZ--Lowell Observatory and the University of Arizona's College of Optical Sciences (OSC) have finalized a $3 million, three-year contract to complete the Discovery Channel Telescope primary mirror. The 4.3 m diameter (14 foot), approximately 6,700 pound mirror is the heart of Lowell Observatory's new Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT). The telescope is under construction at Happy Jack, AZ, 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff.

The Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory is a joint project of Lowell Observatory and Discovery Communications, Inc. (DCI.) When fully operational in 2010, the new telescope will be the fifth largest in the continental U.S. and will allow Lowell astronomers to enter new research areas and conduct existing programs much more efficiently and effectively. The DCT and the research it enables also will be the focus of ongoing informative and educational television programs about astronomy, science, and technology, airing on Discovery networks.

UA optical scientists will polish and figure the mirror in an exacting, delicate process expected to take about three years. If the mirror were the size of the United States, all the imperfections would be polished down to less than one inch high. The DCT mirror was cast and fused by Corning (Canton, NY) to Lowell Observatory's exacting specifications. It is made of Corning's ultra-low-expansion (ULE) glass and is only 100 mm (four inches) thick. "These are very important features," said Lowell's DCT project manager, Byron Smith. "The thinness of the mirror helps it cool rapidly at night reducing heat waves that would blur the images." Both characteristics help to ensure the sharpest possible images from the telescope.

Martin J. Valente is director of OSC's optical fabrication and engineering facility and UA's principal investigator on the project. Valente's engineering team has produced very complex optical systems, including large optics that demonstrated technologies for NASA's Next Generation Space Telescope (James Webb Space Telescope) scheduled for launch in 2013 and the European Space Agency's Far Infrared Space Telescope (Herschel Space Observatory) scheduled for launch next year. The UA optics team also designed and built an all-metal telescope that launched on the space shuttle several years ago, and fabricated large-faceted fused quartz blocks for the Gravity Probe B experiment that launched last year.

For more information, visit www.arizona.edu.

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